How To: Fix a Sticking Door

By Scott Sidler • July 23, 2018

how to fix a sticking doorAs the weather turns warmer, those old wood doors can start to swell and stick making it difficult to operate. In warmer, wetter weather, wood can swell more than you may think, causing doors that worked perfectly in the winter to suddenly become so swollen that they are inoperable.

Nobody likes a sticking door, but the tricky part about fixing this issue is that if you trim too much off, you may end up with a drafty door that has gaps arounds its perimeter in the winter. So, how do you know how much to trim and where? I’ll show you in this post below, so just keep reading!

Step 1 Find the Problem Areas

The first thing you have to do find out where the rub is. The easiest way to do this is look for spots on the jamb or sides of the door where the paint is rubbing off. Slowly open and close the door and look for trouble spots as to where it is rubbing. Mark those spots lightly with a pencil so you know where to trim.

Be sure to check all around the door for an even gap when closed. In the summer months, you should have about a 1/16″ gap all around the perimeter of the door. In the winter 1/8″ or 3/16″ may be more common. If the gap at the hinge side is too big, then check out Step 2.

Step 2 Check the Hinges

Maybe your door isn’t swollen at all. Maybe you’re lucky and it’s just a problem of the hinges coming loose. Check to make sure all of the screws on the hinges going into the jamb and into the side of the door are tight and haven’t come loose. This is an all too easy fix.

If you find some loose screws, then remove the offending screw and take a splinter of wood, add some wood glue to the end of it, and cram it into the screw hole. Break of the part that sticks out and let it dry. Once that glue is dry, you can reinstall your screw and it should hold tight.

If it’s a mater of needing to bring your hinges back further into the jamb, then remove the hinge and using a chisel, pair down the hinge mortise a little bit more, which will bring the door closer to the hinge side of the jamb.

Step 3 Sand Down the Excess

If the areas where your door is sticking are along the side where you can access them without removing the door, then you’ve got things a little easier. Locate all of those pencil marks that you made earlier and using either a block plane or sander (I prefer a belt sander) sand down the high spots until the door closes smoothly.

If it’s a bigger issue than just a few high spots, then ripping the door in Step 4 may be a better solution.

Caution: Don’t over do it!! Sand the door just enough that it will operate smoothly or else you will be left with big gaps in the winter. Remember, the summer is when your door will be the biggest, so we want it to just barely close and open at this point.

Step 4 Ripping the Door

If the bottom of your door is rubbing on the floor or there are too many areas to smoothly sand down, then there is no way to resolve that other than to remove the door and rip down the problems sides.

Setup a couple saw horses and using a Spring Set tool¬†or flat head screw driver, pop the hinge pins out so that you can remove the door for trimming. I wouldn’t recommend just freehanding a circular saw to make your cuts because you’ll almost certainly end up with a wobbly cut. For trimming doors like this, I prefer to use a Kreg Accu-Cut jig so you can get a perfectly straight cut.

The jig only cuts a maximum of 48″ so you won’t be able to cut the entire side of the door, but that is rarely necessary. With this jig, you can always trim the bottom or top of the door with no problem. This jig attaches to almost any circular saw and makes getting a straight cut easy. Check out the video below to see how it works!

Finishing Up

Once you test the fit and have your door operating smoothly, make sure to prime any bare wood that resulted from your modifications with an oil-based primer. Bare wood will pull in moisture quicker than if it is sealed with a primer and you’ll be back in the same sticking door scenario again if you don’t prime it.

Keep an eye out for little tune ups- you may need to make to the door throughout the season and make any changes you need until that sticking door is a thing of the past.

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